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The Delhi High Court has ruled that for each and every case, it cannot be held that the period of home quarantine must stand limited to 14 days only. (Amit Bhargava vs State)
However, if any person, who neither displays COVID-19 symptoms nor has been tested positive for it, is home quarantined for over 14 days, he shall have a right to represent to the authorities against such continued quarantine, the Court has stated.
The Court has added that the authorities would then be bound to either lift the quarantine or to expeditiously explain the reason for continued quarantine for over 14 days.
The order was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice C Hari Shankar in the petition preferred by one of the 72 persons who came in contact with the infamous COVID-19 infected pizza delivery person.
The Petitioner was aggrieved by the prolonged home quarantine imposed by the Delhi Government.
The Petitioner had come in contact with the pizza delivery boy on March 24, 2020.
Since the period of 14 days expired on or around April 7, there was no justification in placing the Petitioner under home quarantine for 14 days with effect from April 14, the Petitioner had submitted.
It was his case that the imposition of a quarantine period of more than 14 days was arbitrary, reflected non-application of mind and was also not in violation of Guideline for Home Quarantine issued by the Directorate General of Health Services and the Delhi Epidemic Diseases, COVID-2019 Regulations, 2020.
In response to the Petition, the Delhi Governemnt informed that when the pizza delivery boy tested positive with the COVID-2019 virus on April 14, it was decided to place all persons, who had been in contact with him, under quarantine for a period of 28 days from the date of delivery.
It was explained that the first sticker was stuck on April 15 to create awareness for people who had come in contact with the Petitioner. However, the actual home quarantine of the Petitioner came into place vide the second notice dated April 17, 2020.
This period was initially for a period of 14 days, in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. When the Petitioner was screened and found not to be suffering from the COVID-19 virus, the sticker was removed, it was added.
After hearing the parties, the Court stated that arithmetically and logically, the Petitioner had a point.
Referring to the Delhi Government's submissions on "estimates" on incubation period of COVID-19, inquiry, inspection, examination and isolation of suspected individuals, the Court said,
"Tackling the COVID-2019 pandemic is a challenge, the scale of which has not been seen during the lifetime of any of us and, hopefully, would not be seen hereafter either."
It observed that although there was no doubt that while tackling the challenge, civil and constitutional rights of citizens could not be compromised, "it is as much incumbent on the citizen, as on the Court, to adopt an approach which is not hyper-legalistic but is pragmatic and practical, and would not disturb the efforts to tide over the pandemic, in which efforts, rewardingly, the nation has come together as a whole".
Iterating that it was unwilling to hold that in each and in every case, the period of home quarantine must stand limited to 14 days, and no more, the Court held,
Keeping in mind the competing interests of public interest and individual prejudice, in which the former must be accorded precedence to tackle the COVID-2019 pandemic, the Court added that if any person, who neither displays COVID-19 symptoms nor has been tested positive for it , is home quarantined for over 14 days, he shall have a right to represent to the authorities against such continued quarantine.
Should the person continue to be aggrieved, the right to seek legal redress would remain preserved, it was clarified.
It further directed that all notices placing persons under home quarantine, have to necessarily indicate the period of home quarantine, as well as the date from which it is to commence.
The Court further directed that the Delhi Government just ensure that a helpline number for persons in home quarantine is displayed on the official website of the Government of NCT of Delhi.
In the end, the Court added that in absence of any legal or constitutional infraction, courts have to be slow in subjecting executive action taken in the context of the COVID-2019 crisis, to searching judicial scrutiny.
"The executive must, in such a circumstance, be afforded the requisite play in the joints, so as to formulate, and implement, its policy, as meaningfully and efficiently as possible."
The Petition was accordingly disposed of.
Advocates Shyel Trehan, Bhagya K Yadav and Kshitij Dua represented the Petitioner.
Advocate Shobhana Takiar represented Delhi Government.
Read the Notice: